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It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah (the five books of Moses) and scriptural interpretations as well as material on mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology.
The Zohar contains discussions of the nature of God, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, redemption, the relationship of Ego to Darkness and "true self" to "The Light of God", and the relationship between the "universal energy" and man.
The authenticity of the Zohar was accepted by such 16th century Jewish luminaries as R' Yosef Karo (d.1575), R' Moses Isserles (d.
1572), and R' Solomon Luria (d.1574), who wrote that Jewish law (Halacha) follows the Zohar, except where the Zohar is contradicted by the Babylonian Talmud.
Joseph Jacobs and Isaac Broyde, in their article on the Zohar for the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, cite a story involving the Kabbalist Isaac of Acco, who is supposed to have heard directly from the widow of de Leon that her husband proclaimed authorship by Shimon bar Yochai for profit: A story tells that after the death of Moses de Leon, a rich man of Avila named Joseph offered Moses' widow (who had been left without any means of supporting herself) a large sum of money for the original from which her husband had made the copy.
"tradition") were revealed by God to Biblical figures such as Abraham and Moses and were then transmitted orally from the Biblical era until their redaction by Shimon bar Yochai, modern academic analysis of the Zohar, such as that by the 20th century religious historian Gershom Scholem, has theorized that De Leon was the actual author.
In the Ashkenazi community of Eastern Europe, religious authorities including the Vilna Gaon (d.1797) and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (d.1812) (The Baal Ha Tanya) believed in the authenticity of the Zohar.
The influence of the Zohar and the Kabbalah in Yemen, where it was introduced in the 17th century, contributed to the formation of the Dor Deah movement, led by Rabbi Yiḥyeh Qafeḥ in the later part of the 19th century, whose adherents believed that the core beliefs of Judaism were rapidly diminishing in favor of the mysticism of the Kabbalah.
De León ascribed the work to Shimon bar Yochai ("Rashbi"), a rabbi of the 2nd century during the Roman persecution hid in a cave for thirteen years studying the Torah and was inspired by the Prophet Elijah to write the Zohar.
This accords with the traditional claim by adherents that Kabbalah is the concealed part of the Oral Torah.
Debate continued over the generations; Delmedigo's arguments were echoed by Leon of Modena (d.1648) in his Ari Nohem, and a work devoted to the criticism of the Zohar, Mitpachas Sefarim, was written by Jacob Emden (d.1776), who, waging war against the remaining adherents of the Sabbatai Zevi movement (in which Zevi, a false messiah and Jewish apostate, cited Messianic prophecies from the Zohar as proof of his legitimacy), endeavored to show that the book on which Zevi based his doctrines was a forgery.